Check out my other site, RPGreats, for honest RPG reviews!


Spoony's Best Games of 2023

As always, keep in mind that I've gone to great lengths to also play every single other game released in 2023 to spare you the trouble of telling me I forgot something.

11. Sun Haven (Pixel Sprout Studios, PC/Switch)

A game built around farming and character interactions.  One might be tempted to write it off as a Stardew Valley clone, and while the overall setup is similar, the gameplay is considerably more complex and refined.  For one, you don't have to contend with a stamina meter (definitely a bonus in my book) and can adjust how quickly time passes, with each day lasting between 10 and 40 minutes.  It also blends in a lot more RPG elements - completing various tasks in the course of your day, as well as optional quests, earns experience points, and once you hit a certain plateau in one of your five fields of expertise (exploration, farming, mining, combat and fishing) you gain a level and earn a skill point, which can be spent on various upgrades to make you more efficient in numerous ways. From granting more materials per resource farmed to earning more money for selling to damage buffs to a dash that lets you move faster.  Food also grants permanent stat boosts, but only to a point for each type, so mixing it up is essential.  Even the multiplayer element is more pronounced, giving each playable race a unique bonus that also benefits anyone else in the current game.  Basically, there's a lot more RPG here than there was in Stardew, which is probably why it appeals more to me.

10. Bomb Rush Cyberfunk (Team Reptile, PC/Switch/Playstation 4/Playstation 5/XBox One/XBox Series)

Jet Set Radio remains a cult classic on the Dreamcast and Xbox for good reason, combining stunts, graffiti, stylish cel-shaded action and two of the greatest gaming soundtracks ever into one awesome experience.  A third entry in that series has long gone ignored, but Bomb Rush Cyberfunk does its best to fill the gap.  Set in a futuristic New Amsterdam and putting you in the role of Red, a cyborg head attached to the decapitated body of legendary graffiti artist Faux.  ...Yeah, it's weird, but the gameplay is perfectly on point, with tons of hidden secrets, open world design and smooth movement and combat mechanics.

9. System Shock (Nightdive Studios, PC)

A remake of the classic immersive sim FPS from the '90s, it famously had a quite long and troubled history that was fraught with numerous delays, an engine switch and no less than two complete restarts, which brings to mind another infamously drawn-out FPS development cycle.  Thankfully System Shock's long-awaited return fares much better than Duke's, opting to go for a mostly-faithful take on the original with some modernization of its clunkier aspects.  To that end, it features a more streamlined control setup and UI, fewer (but upgradable) weapons and some added features from the second game like having vending machines and upgradable weapons, as well as redone voiceover (with Terri Brosius reprising her role as SHODAN; I'd accept no less).  Being a faithful translation it also retains many of the annoying aspects of the original game - the convoluted levels, spongey enemies (particularly in the final gauntlet) and puzzles that require you to comb basically every inch of every floor and pay meticulous attention to audio logs and subtle clues are all still very much present in this version.

8. Sea of Stars (Sabotage Studio, Playstation 4/Playstation 5/XBox One/XBox Series/PC)

If you know me, you know I'm quite skeptical of "retro style" RPGs, as too often they think that trotting out bog-standard gameplay and dated graphics without having any actual ideas of their own is an automatic road to success.  Never mind that the reason people fondly remember games like Chrono Trigger and the 16-bit Final Fantasies were because they set new trends and broke away away from the clunky, dated design of their predecessors, and didn't just rehash it all again beat for beat.  Sea of Stars thankfully avoids that trap; while it clearly draws inspiration from games like Chrono Trigger, Mario RPG and Wild Arms, it also has enough of its own quirks to stand out.  I particularly like having to break "Locks" to weaken or stop enemy attacks, as well as the game nudging you to use of special attacks and limit breaks when they become available rather than just hoarding them for boss fights.  It's got some great characters, a killer soundtrack (with the legendary Yasunori Mitsuda providing a few tracks) and a lot of quirky creativity reminiscent of its inspirations without feeling overly derivative of any single one, so as far as retro styled RPGs go, this is easily one of the best I've played.

7. Marvel's Spider-Man 2 (Insomniac Games, PlayStation 5)

The sequel to the hit 2018 Spider-Man game (and its followup starring Miles Morales) and it's about what you'd expect - more missions, more powers and gadgets, and the story carries on where the first left off, hitting plenty of emotional beats along the way.  That's not a bad thing by any measuring stick though; I've already asserted that the original Marvel's Spider-Man is the best superhero game ever made, so more of it certainly won't ruin my day.  There seems to be less focus on tedious race/combat challenges this time (thankfully) and you control both Spider-Men throughout the story, switching perspective as the narrative shifts, with Peter Parker having more focus on gadgets and Miles Morales using his invisibility and electricity-channeling powers in creative ways.  As with the original it's also just a joy to experience, with relatively few bugs (though more of them than the PS4 games, somehow), seamless transitions from cutscenes to gameplay and no visible loading even when fast traveling.  An excellent open world experience.

6. Super Mario RPG (ArtePiazza, Switch)

A dream people have been screaming about for almost thirty years finally became a reality when Nintendo announced the Mario RPG remake.  Developed by ArtePiazza (who also worked on several of the Dragon Quest remakes), the game is gorgeously animated, has some amazing updated music and a few new mechanics added; successfully timing attacks and blocks builds up a Chain that steadily grants bonuses to your party, and Triple Attacks - something similar to a limit break which slowly charges as you fight your way through battles.  And of course, there's no shortage of postgame content for gamers seeking a new challenge after clearing the main game.  A faithful yet surprisingly fresh remake of a classic.

5. Super Mario Bros. Wonder (Nintendo, Switch)

Super Mario Bros. is of course a franchise which needs no introduction, and its latest entry proves that the series is far from running out of steam despite being nearly forty years old at this point.  So, what sets this one apart, other than the bizarre elephant powerup and the large cast of playable characters?, The sheer creativity on display; just about every level here shows off some new and creative mechanic.  From hippos that wedge themselves into pits to be used as bouncy platforms to piranha plants suddenly breaking out into a song number to pipes that slither like caterpillars, the game is a chaotic, bizarre experience from start to finish.  It actually reminds me a lot of the old Donkey Kong Country games, setting up a solid foundation and then constantly playing with your expectations every chance they get to hide secrets from you.  Any game that isn't afraid to go so outlandish and still retains its franchise's legendary polish and fun is an instant hit with me.

4. Hi-Fi Rush (Tango Gameworks, XBox Series/PC)

Hi-Fi Rush is a clever idea that's well-implemented, taking the stylish action of Devil May Cry, the color-popping cel-shaded visuals of Jet Set Radio, combining it with a killer rock soundtrack and having all the action sync up to the beat of it to boot.  Basically, stage obstacles and enemy patterns all time themselves to it, and you can rack up a high score by doing the same - timing your button presses to the beat earns more points and deals more damage.  It has a pretty amazing sense of humor too, with some downright hilarious dialog and cutscenes throughout, making it a must-play if you're a gamer of the Microsoft persuasion.

3. Final Fantasy XVI (Square Enix, Playstation 5)

The latest entry in the long-running Final Fantasy franchise is once again a divisive one (say what?!), this time for shedding most of its RPG trappings in favor of a straight-up stylish action title reminiscent of Devil May Cry; which is no coincidence as its combat designer also worked on games like Devil May Cry 5, Monster Hunter and Dragon's Dogma.  There's still a few of those usual RPG trappings, mind - you upgrade your swords and accessories, earn experience points and AP from battles and gradually unlock new skills with the latter, but it's not a game you can simply power through by grinding for a while.  Levels and equipment only give you a small edge; you'll still need to master attacking, parrying, dodging and smart use of your powers to make your way through the game.  It's also the first M-rated game in the series, which makes it quite a bit darker in tone and content than the series norm, but its strongly written cast and story make it a worthy journey to undertake.  This was the game that finally sold me on getting a Playstation 5.

2. Baldur's Gate III (Larian Studios, Playstation 5/XBox Series/PC)

As someone who was a big fan of the classic Baldur's Gate games as well as Divinity: Original Sin II, this was a natural choice to pick up.  Sure enough, it didn't disappoint on either front.  With Larian's brilliant engine that makes for some amazing dungeons, creative puzzles and extremely challenging battles, with enough wiggle room for plenty of player creativity and improvisation, I can easily say this is the best D&D experience I've ever had on that front.  But then you top it with some amazingly written characters (any of whom you can take control of yourself or create your own) and a captivating story where your choices actually make a big difference on the outcome, and it's easily among the best on that front too.  Put simply, one of the finest RPGs I've ever had the pleasure of playing, and one I can't recommend enough.

1. The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom (Nintendo/Monolith Soft, Switch)

Breath of the Wild was definitely a new turn for Nintendo and the Zelda franchise, taking the basnic Zelda format and putting it into a vast open world. I enjoyed the game in many respects, but I didn't love it; the lack of tangible reward for most quests, lackluster dungeons and overall drab overworld were very prominent shortcomings in a genre that's already had several major, highly polished hits in it.  Nintendo was clearly taking notes from the game's critics, though, as Tears of the Kingdom improves upon its predecessor in virtually every way.  The world, despite being based on the same overworld map, is now remixed and vastly expanded with caves, wells and miniature dungeons to uncover, as well as two entirely new worlds to explore in the underworld and the floating islands in the sky.  Are there still breakable weapons?  Sure, but now you can cobble any two of them together (or stick nearly any item on the end of an arrow) to build a huge number of hybrids, many of which are actually quite useful and deadly.  You also get new powers like the Ultrahand, which lets you move around nearly any object in the game world and attach it to others, Rewind allows you to roll back time for almost anything affected by physics, and Ascend, which lets you leap upward through any solid object and even through vast stretches of earth to get back to the surface.  But the greatest thing of all is the creative element it brings - you can collect and store a vast array of objects, stick them together with your Ultrahand, and craft all manner of usable vehicles, traps, cages and weapons to use however you wish.  This adds a tremendous layer of depth to the game and has resulted in countless jaw-dropping player creations that can lay waste to hordes of enemies in moments or completely bypass obstacles in clever ways; seriously, look up some of these on social media if you haven't and you'll be blown away.  It all culminates in an immersive-sim-like experience that I didn't even think would be possible on any console, let alone a portable system that was nearly six years old at the time it launched, and the sheer amount of added features and content it has makes Breath of the Wild look like an early beta in comparison.  I hadn't been this thoroughly engrossed by a game in years, and even now, months after completing it, I still want to go back and experience it all again.  What a phenomenal landmark title for gaming as a whole, let alone in 2023.


Spoony's Most Anticipated Games of 2024

Monomyth - It's been a good while since we've had a good immersive sim dungeon crawl (and don't even get me started on the massive disappointment that was Underworld Ascendant).  Monomyth currently only exists in demo form, but it's already got me hooked - genuine puzzle solving, world building and emergent design, with some focus on combat but it's hardly a majority of the experience like 80% of all modern dumb hack-and-slashfest RPGs.

Kingsvein - Rad Codex's new open world tactical combat RPG.  I absolutely loved Horizon's Gate, so this was an easy sell for me.  For a tiny one-man indie studio to make games this deep, vast and rewarding is downright amazing.

Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth - Big fan of the Yakuza/LaD series, and this is the second with Ichiban in the starring role.  Kiryu's back too, and they seem to have taken the mechanics in some interesting directions, like Kiryu being able to escape turn-based mode to lay down his usual beat-em-up style for a few seconds.  Good times.

Metaphor Re Fantazio - A non-SMT RPG from Atlus?  Hope it's a return to quality so they have something else to lean on instead of just whoring out P5 again or releasing mediocre poopy with dragging pacing so you get tempted to buy the game breaker DLC to speed it up a bit... 

Eiyuden Chronicle: Hundred Heroes - Suikoden's spiritual successor, and as someone who's wanted another game in that series since the PS2 era, I of course am excited to play this one.  Plus hey, they found a way to combine 3D backdrops and 2D sprites without it looking like complete dogshit *coughoctopath*.

Suikoden I and II Remaster -  Yeah this is just Konami blatantly trying to get a piece of the pie from the above entry, but whatever, I still want it.  Suikoden II is one of the best RPGs ever made and seeing it in gorgeous HD, with bugs fixed, is a win in my book. 

Persona 3 Reload - Remake Persona 3, leave out the FES and Portable content, and charge $70 for it.  Then release an updated version in 2025 that includes all that stuff for full price again.  Am I a sucker for doing so?  Probably, but I'm still doing it. 

Dragon's Dogma 2 - Now with actual co-op?  We shall see.

Shantae Advance: Risky Revolution - An unreleased game from two decades ago finally gets to see the light of day.  Plus hey, I love the Shantae games; sign me up! 


Most Disappointing Games of 2023

 Resident Evil 4 (Capcom, PS5/XBox Series/PC)

I had my doubts about the Resident Evil 4 remake from the get-go, mostly because it felt totally unnecessary - 2005's Resident Evil 4 is a masterpiece of design, with immaculately optimized mechanics, tight controls and a carefully-crafted rhythm to its action that kept the gameplay manageable even during the most intense moments, and it still holds up wonderfully today.  Guess what the remake did away with?  If you guessed "all of the above", then you're correct!  The movement is slower and clunkier, aiming is pointlessly made more "realistic" as you have to point in the same direction and stay still for a second to tighten the reticle - in an intense action game, I'd like to reiterate - and enemies come at you constantly from every angle (even spawning just out of your field of view to get cheap hits in) so you can never take any time to actually line up your shots.  Their answer to all of this was to shoehorn in a parry mechanic where you can hit L1 to parry most melee attacks and drive your attacker back a bit, but the prompt is stuck way down in the corner on the tiny HUD so you'll never see it in time anyway.  Then you jam in lame sidequests to earn upgrades, a dopey achievement-tied unlock system just to pad the game out more and neuter every character of their personality and charm and... blech.  RE4's remake is just another example of what happens when some overpaid hack committee values superfluous bullshit like raytracing and stodgy content-for-content's-sake over tight design and entertainment value.  Forget this joyless dredge and pick up the original instead; any version of the 2005 Resident Evil 4 will give you way more value for your money.

Forspoken (Luminous Productions, PS5/PC)

The first (and it would seem, last) outing from Luminous Productions; a subsidiary of Square Enix comprised mostly of alumni from Final Fantasy XV's dev team.  It certainly got attention when it was announced, seemingly allowing for fluid movement over any terrain a la Saints Row IV or a much faster paced Breath of the Wild, having you battle enemies while zipping across the landscape at high speed.  It does indeed have that, but not quite to the extent you'd hope - while you can run relatively quickly over flat terrain, you can't really go up too steep of a cliff or wall without some handholds, so it's not nearly as free and exhilarating as you'd hope.  Combat in the game is downright dull too, mostly just consisting of repeatedly pressing the trigger buttons to pelt enemies with projectiles until they fall down, earning bonuses for hitting enemies from the side or behind, doing an aerial melee attack or landing finishing moves and having points deducted for taking hits.  Charged attacks and supportive spells (like restricting enemy movement in a radius) don't really add much to the experience either; the latter doesn't have any sort of homing ability unlike your basic shots and stops dead when it hits any sort of terrain, making it worthless outside of point-blank range, while supportive spells take far too long to recharge to be much use.   It's also pretty hard to get invested in the story when it has to rely constantly on such forced humor (trotting out the "peasants of this medieval world don't understand modern lingo" cliché about twenty times in every cutscene), and the near-constant witty repartee with your magical cuff throughout the gameplay just gets grating after the first twenty minutes, let alone a fifteen-plus hour journey.  It's very clear that none of Final Fantasy XV's talented writing staff worked on this one, as I actually found the banter in that game quite charming and the scenes to be consistently well-staged and acted, furthering the story brilliantly.  There are some fun ideas in Forspoken, but the gameplay's lackluster execution, the cliched premise and consistently grating protagonists made it a game I quickly grew tired of.

Starfield (Bethesda Softworks, XBox Series/PC)

Bethesda has been trapped in a rut of basically making the same game over and over since 2006 - vast, open, pretty to look at, but ultimately shallow, with forgettable main questions and characters and dungeons and battles that start to feel very samey after a while.  I'd hoped Starfield - their first new IP in 25 years - would be their big chance to step up and really break the mold, but... Nope, not really, it's just the same overall feel again, with a few light elements of Starflight, No Man's Sky and Elite sprinkled on top.  In fact they've actually regressed to the Elder Scrolls 1 school of map design in that if you just go down and wander you'll never encounter anything other than blank terrain; you have to learn where something is via a book or quest order and then fast travel straight to it, and even then its usually just another samey building or space station full of carbon-copy mooks to take out. They've taken all the joy out of exploring; a killing blow to any RPG, but especially so when you're talking about a game set in the final frontier.  The fact that it came out the same year as several other amazing RPGs like Tears of the Kingdom, Baldur's Gate III and Sea of Stars only makes its shortcomings all the more apparent too.  Basically, it's just another Bethesda game - safe and generic enough that casual fans and modders will get a kick out of it, but those searching for something deeper and more engaging on a mental and emotional level will forget about pretty quickly.


Shadow Hearts Covenant Part 8

Sidequests and then we wrap up Disc 1.

Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King Part 10

 The Cameo Cup